Chapter 17

Copyright© 2015 by Colin Barrett


Our honeymoon was in Hawaii, the most exotic location we could find that was in the U.S. It had to be the U.S., because one of the few things Spook couldn't arrange for us was passports. Passport applications are reviewed by real live human beings, not just filtered through computers, and for women they require maiden names, and in that cloistered environment "Lisa Anne Wentworth" was almost sure to set off alarms.

But Hawaii did it nicely; we booked into an A-list resort on the big island, and had a great time alternately exploring its resources and retiring to our suite to make love. We took two full weeks, and toward the end I was wondering aloud to Lee whether we should think about making our home there. But in the end we went back to Charleston, which we were both coming to appreciate a lot.

I had work to do.

Not a paying job, of course, with Spook looking after us I had no need to generate income. He'd actually set up a stock portfolio, about $30 million of well-diversified securities, growth mixed with income-producing. That was to be my traceable source of income, visible to IRS and anybody else who cared to check. And in cases of need there'd be more available, virtually unlimited as Lisa had said.

My real work, for as long as he needed or wanted, would be Spook himself. He had, of course, vastly more raw intelligence than me or anyone else, he could think faster and better than any human being in history. But in dealing with human emotions and illogicalities he was often lost; he could think better than a human but not like a human. My role was to provide the human interaction by which he could decide on and measure what he did.

He was already getting some sense of how he could play a role in the human world around him. Helping to nail the would-be fertilizer bomber had apparently given him a big sense of satisfaction.

I think it is possible that my action protected many who might have been harmed by this person, do you agree, Jack?

"Absolutely," I told him. "Somebody else did that a few years ago, with a smaller amount than this guy had. He killed a couple of hundred people, including some children."

Will this be my purpose? he asked. Shall I seek out others who have accumulated destructive materials and wish to use them to do harm? Is that a good purpose?

"It can be one of your purposes if you want it to be," I said. "And yes, I think it's a good one. But you can have many purposes, you don't need to limit yourself to just that. People, humans, usually have more than one purpose, do more than one thing, and you can multi-task better than any human. Start with this, maybe, but you don't need to stop there."

With access to virtually any machine linked to the Internet, unfettered by a need for judicial warrants and due process of law, Spook soon found another terrorist cell primed for action. It was small-time action by comparison, involving a planned sniper at a shopping mall, but lives would nevertheless be at risk and preventive action was in order.

That left me with a dilemma: how to report it? I'd been hoping to let Jack Heyward sort of fade out of Federal consciousness. Ashley had phoned, several times, but I'd told Spook to use a routine out-of-service message and turn the calls away. If they never heard from me again, I figured, sooner or later they'd just give up, deciding that either I'd died or I'd gone all the way underground and was no longer whatever threat they'd thought me to be.

So an anonymous tip seemed the way to go, and I made it via e-mail, using another of Spook's seemingly endless supply of untraceable sources. And ... nothing. Until four days later the TV news reported that a sniper, my sniper—well, Spook's—had been shot dead at the same mall after, oh, Christ, wounding three unsuspecting shoppers and killing one.

I was sick. Literally, I just made it to a john and threw up.

Several hours later Spook reported another call coming in on the Heyward line. This time he said someone was talking right over the out-of-service message. I told him to let me hear it, which he did time-delay, filtering out both the message and the subsequent dial tone.

"Jack, this is Richard," came Ashley's now-familiar voice. "I know you're still out there, and I'm hoping you get this. That was your tip, about the sniper, wasn't it? Jack, anonymous won't work, do you have any idea how many crank e-mails we get—?"

I gave up, right then. I couldn't stop thinking about the dead woman and the wounded. Ashley was still talking, and I told Spook to cut the block and put the call through.

"All right, Richard," I said tiredly.

There was a sudden silence, I'd interrupted him in the middle of what was obviously a lengthy tirade. But he re-grouped fast. "About time, Jack," he said, his voice dropping several decibels. "That poor woman didn't have to die, you know."

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